“Adirondack Atlas” author and botanist Jerry Jenkins gives remarks at the Adirondack Museum Aug. 4 after he was awarded the museum’s annual Harold Hochschild Award.
The Adirondack Museum Aug. 4 honored Jerry Jenkins for his many contributions to the Adirondack Park — as a botanist, naturalist, geographer and author — by awarding him the annual Harold K. Hochschild Award.
Since 1990, the award — named after the museum’s founder — has been reserved for community leaders who advance the region’s culture and quality of life. A host of guest speakers at the award ceremony testified how Jenkins fits this role and why he deserves the award.
“What Jerry has accomplished was to put the Adirondacks on the global map,” said Timothy Barnett, vice president of the Adirondack Nature Conservancy.
Jenkins is an ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Adirondack Program, based in Saranac Lake. He has almost 40 years of field experience working in the Northern Forest, including mountain landscapes in New York, Vermont and Maine.
“The Adirondacks are filled with Ayatollahs and icons, and Jerry certainly fits the icon version,” Barnett said, adding that he’s had the privilege of knowing all kinds of visionary icons in the Adirondack conservationist movement, such as Clarence Petty, Greenleaf “Greenie” Chase and Ed Ketchledge.
“The difference is that Jerry is a universal man,” Barnett said. “Jerry Jenkins has made the biology of the Adirondacks available to the Northeast, the country, the world. And that has been an incredible contribution.”
Over the course of his career, Jenkins has conducted biological inventories for The Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, chronicled the environmental history of acid rain with the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation, and interpreted historical changes to boreal lowland areas in the Adirondacks with WCS.
Jenkins first arrived in the Adirondack Park in 1982, when the Adirondack Park Agency hired him to complete a biological survey of Spring Pond Bog near Tupper Lake. At the time, it was on private land and there was a proposal to harvest sphagnum moss from the bog. Thanks, in part, to his work, the Adirondack Nature Conservancy now protects the land.
“Out of that came Jerry’s explanation of mosses and grasses and liverworts and things that most of us don’t even look at, and that brought the attention of not only the APA ... but eventually the Nature Conservancy into helping protect that area,” Barnett said.
Jenkins reflected on that project during the award ceremony. He was 38 years old at the time.
“I went in there, and I was just amazed,” Jenkins said. “I barely knew the Adirondacks at that time. I found a mile-long bog filled with wonderful, wonderful things. I came back out after a week or so camping next to it, my eyes were spinning. I went in to the agency that hired me and said ‘You’ve got a mile-long bog filled with wonderful rare stuff. How many others have you got?‘ And they said, of course, ‘We have no idea.’”
Jenkins was intrigued. APA staff suggested he visit naturalist “Greenie” Chase at his home near Saranac Lake. And he did, spending a couple of days picking his brain and looking at maps and photographs. There was no biological map of the Adirondack Park. But Jenkins was in luck; Chase had the map in his head.
“And I started to put that down on paper,” Jenkins said.
Now, almost 30 years later, Jenkins noted two major accomplishments in the Park. First of all, about 1 million acres of land that was previously unprotected is now under conservation ownership or easement.
“But the other equally amazing achievement ... is that simultaneous with that we built a much more detailed map of the Adirondacks that we had ever had before,” Jenkins said. “We helped to know what we had, how it was arranged, why people thought it was important ... We’re still learning. We have that map in amazingly good shape.”
As map maker, Jenkins worked with Andy Keal and the WCS to co-write “The Adirondack Atlas,” published in 2004, which offers a detailed geographic portrait of the 6-million-acre Adirondack Park. With about 750 maps and graphics, the authors cover 130 topics.
“Up until 30 years ago, Adirondack conservation was navigating by guess and by golly,” Jenkins said. “Now it least it has a map.”
By making the Adirondack map, Jenkins said he wasn’t trying to tell people how to manage the Park.
“A scientific map does not dictate how you act or how you protect,” he said. “It says, ‘This is here, this is there, and this is what it looks like.’ It doesn’t say what you should do. Navigation is still the job of the pilot and the navigator and the crew, but the navigator without a map is impossible.”
In his latest book — “Climate Change in the Adirondacks: The Path to Sustainability” (2010) — Jenkins explores the impacts of and potential solutions to climate change in the Adirondack region in the 21st century.
“The climate change century will change not the layout of the map, but the meaning of everything,” Jenkins said during the award ceremony, “and it will change our protection laws.”
Wrapping up his remarks, Jenkins summed up his 30 years of experience in the field by looking toward future challenges in the Adirondack region as they relate to climate change.
“We have an enormously difficult century coming up that will try us all and will try our kids, our grandchildren, every institution,” Jenkins said. “And so I would like you all to remember how much the conservation and science communities have accomplished in 30 years time because, unfortunately, we have to do twice that in the next 30 years and there will be no stopping.”
The list of speakers on Aug. 4 included Michael Lombardi, the museum’s interim director; Nancy Keet, chairwoman of the Hochschild Award Committee; Sheafe Satterthwaite, lecturer at Williams College; Cali Brooks, executive director at the Adirondack Community Trust; Robert Worth, honorary trustee at the Adirondack Museum; Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director at The Wild Center; Bill Weber, of the Wildlife Conservation Society; and George Wilson, pilot and musician, who performed a couple fiddle tunes with former band member Frank Orsini.